Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bagging the Secrets of Baguettes

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bagging the Secrets of Baguettes

Article excerpt

RECENTLY, I started acting on a New Year's resolution that I made three years ago: to bake bread.

I figured if I was going to go to the trouble of making bread, I wanted to end up with something serious bread eaters would crave. Baguettes, those long, skinny loaves with crisp crusts, fit the bill.

My first batch of bread turned out to be squat and very thick. Billy-club baguettes. The second batch was longer, thinner, but just as tough. Baseball-bat baguettes. Both batches had good-looking interiors. But that crust! If I had hit someone with one of those loaves, I could have been arrested on charges of assaultb.

I called a couple of bakers for help. The first was Charles van Over. It was van Over's baguette recipe I was trying to replicate. He baked bread for fun when he was in Baltimore in the late 1950s and the '60s while attending Johns Hopkins University. He baked bread when he was chef and owner of Restaurant du Village in Chester, Conn.

When I reached him at his home in Connecticut, he was simultaneously baking a loaf of olive bread and working on plans for the springtime opening of a combination restaurant and bakery: La Petite Ferme, in Old Saybrook, Conn.

Rather than use an electric mixer to make bread dough, van Over uses a food processor fitted with steel blades. I had read about his bread-making approach in an article in the New York Times. It said that in order to make homemade bread, all one had to do was carefully measure ingredients, push buttons on the food processor, take the dough's temperature, manipulate it, then wait four to six hours before baking. That may seem like a long time to wait for bread, but I have found that if something takes a long time to make, it usually tastes a whole lot better than something made in a hurry.

My conversation with van Over revolved around three topics. First, his fond feelings for Baltimore. Second, his bread-baking theory. And third, his tips on how I could soften the close-to-felonious crust of my baguettes.

Van Over said the notion that you can make good dough with a food processor has "turned the bread world on its ear." With enthusiasm in his voice, he detailed the chemical reactions involved in bread-making. …

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